From Carl Coon
I’m getting tired of this whole God business. I used to regard God with a sort of benevolent patience, like a successful author might regard an English teacher who used to give him a hard time when he was in the eighth grade but has long since become a nuisance. That author really doesn’t need to be reminded when not to split an infinitive, and I am getting pretty damn tired of being reminded that I must behave this way or that, or I’ll not go to heaven.
Ok, God was a useful stepping stone in the long course of cultural evolution that has made us a uniquely successful species. He (God’s typically been cast as a “he”) was a useful crutch that made people behave themselves and act for the better of their group even when they didn’t want to. Now that we know what we are and how we got this way, we don’t need that crutch anymore; we have a more reasoned and consistent basis for judging right from wrong. We obey the law of the land not only because we may go to jail if we don’t, but because we want to obey it—we know we have to pay up to support a system we all profit from. Existing within a web of mostly implicit contractual relationships of that nature, we learn to navigate among them at an early age, and it is this willingness that provides the lubricants that keep the wheels of our society turning.
Modern politics is a discussion of how to make those wheels turn more fairly and more efficiently, and we don’t need God sitting at our elbows, telling us what to do based on some antiquated ideas about morality. When you look at the current uproar over the forthcoming elections, it’s pretty hard to identify God as helping, although it’s easy to spot issues and situations where God’s screwing things up. Need I get specific? Anyone likely to read this can easily fill in the blanks.
It’s even easier to see how outdated and dysfunctional God has become when you look abroad, especially in regions where he’s still telling people what to do and a lot of them are listening and obeying, or at least using the advice as justification. My special beat is the Middle East and I can assure you that God in those parts, usually known as Allah, has taken a situation that was difficult to begin with and made it much, much worse. Fifty or sixty years ago nationalism based on region and language and history was what divided people and that was bad enough, but somehow Allah got into the middle where he had no business, and a lot of groups that didn’t much like each other but were learning to get along discovered they hated each others’ guts so ardently that all they wanted to do was get out the long knives. They have been hacking away ever since. With a friend like God, you are guaranteed to have plenty of enemies, mortal ones at that.
What to do? I’m coming to the conclusion that we humanists need to stand tall and enunciate clearly that we not only don’t believe in God, we believe everybody would be better off if our country and indeed the whole world tried harder to get along without such a belief. I’m not recommending we take a page out of the Hari Krishnas’ playbook and stand around on street corners dispensing pamphlets. But I’m getting tired of defining myself as someone who doesn’t believe in something—I’d prefer to tell people something I do believe in. And I do believe in the proposition that the old gods have had their day, and should be retired.
We waste a lot of time arguing amongst ourselves whether it is a negation of our essence as nonbelievers to have faith in anything. Perhaps, if we can agree on believing strongly in the need to get our society past the old gods, some of us can take it from there. My own brand of progressive humanism has in it the concept of evolution-based direction and the idea that can furnish a science-based sense of purpose, which in turn can give meaning to humanism for those who seek meaning in what they do. Maybe we can all talk about that a bit more, as we humanists shoulder our way into the mainstream of public discussion in our fractious nation.